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Free Barron's Booknotes-A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
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HEMINGWAY'S HEROIC CODE - CODE HERO

Frederic Henry in A Farewell to Arms shares a number of traits with the heroes of other Hemingway books: Nick Adams of In Our Time, Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises, and Robert Jordan of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Because all these characters seem to have come from the same mold, they have been merged by some critics into a single Hemingway hero, and the ideals they try to live by have been seen as a sort of Hemingway heroic code. Indeed, because Hemingway's own life of soldiering, journalism, travel, and big game hunting seems so close to the lives of his heroes, he himself has been seen as a follower-and, in the end, with his suicide, perhaps a victim-of that code.

Why was such a code necessary? Because in Hemingway's world, a world still shuddering in the aftermath of a brutal war, the old values-faith in family, in country, in a just and loving God-had been irreparably shattered. In such a world, wrote one critic, only a rigid code of behavior "makes a man a man and distinguishes him from the people who follow random impulses, let down their hair, and are generally messy, perhaps cowardly, without inviolable rules for how to live holding tight."


What exactly are these rules? For one thing, though inviolable they are generally unspoken. Henry had lost all faith in spoken moralities, at least in those pronounced by the leaders of his day. As he says, "I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain.... I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards
at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it." What has value is not the high-flown and the abstract, but the concrete, the tangible, the sensual: the names of places where battles were fought, a landscape with blooming orchards, snowy mountains, clear-running streams; a hearty meal with good wine.

Hemingway's heroes also place much faith in the ability to do a job well. Notice how, in A Farewell to Arms, all of the characters Henry and Hemingway admire-Rinaldi, the British ambulance driver, Nurse Gage, the surgeon Valentini-are efficient and professional even in the worst of circumstances.

More importantly, Hemingway's heroes and heroines are marked by stoicism-a term taken from Greek philosophy, describing the belief that no matter how much life makes you suffer you must never show that suffering. Many of Hemingway's heroes-Nick Adams, Jake Barnes, and of course Frederic Henry-endure war wounds so severe they will in some way never recover from them. Yet in public they all present consistently brave faces. As the French writer Andre Maurois noted, Hemingway's "entire morality is based on the manner in which one behaves in the presence of death." Catherine Barkley is the epitome of the Hemingway heroine because, dying in childbirth, she casually tells Frederic Henry, "Don't worry, darling. I'm not afraid. It's just a dirty trick."

The world of Hemingway's heroes, despite its glowing moments of love and beauty, is a cruel one. As Frederic Henry says with such bitter eloquence at the end of A Farewell to Arms, "You did not know what it was about. You never had time to learn. They threw you in and told you the rules and the first time they caught you off base they killed you... They killed you in the end. You could count on that. Stay around and they would kill you." In the face of such certainties, only by holding onto a rigidly honorable code of behavior can men and women find even brief moments of meaning and happiness.

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